The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) world became more real to more than 100 Salt Lake Community College students last Friday.
Billy Curtis, the Director of the Gender Equity Resource Center in Berkeley, gave an impassioned speech on the subject of understanding “the full spectrum of LGBTIQ identities” at Taylorsville Redwood Campus. Students and faculty alike found themselves front row to a lecture aimed towards understanding diverse segments of people, and the necessity of bridging gaps between them.
“Do you know how to speak across difference?” Curtis asked, “Do you know how to speak to others so you’re not excluding them? Do you know how to go back to your families and speak… so that they can understand you…and so you can hear them? Intersections are the pressure points. If we continue to work alone in silos, we will fail.”
Acknowledging potential points of strain when discussing LGBT issues in a state widely known for its conservative views, Curtis led by example, calling out the elephant in the room.
Referring to California’s Proposition 8 debate Curtis said, “California and Utah have developed a very special relationship over the last couple of years. It’s quite an awkward marriage so to speak.” He went on to applaud efforts made in Utah during that debate. “Go Bruins! Go Salt Lake City! We are about inclusion. This is a fight for equity, and equality for all.”
At times, the lecture explored questions deep in the discussion of diversity mixture, not often considered by all but the most diehard diversity advocates. A far cry from the platitudes plaguing the diversity discussion, Curtis concentrated on the value of distinguishing between different segments within the LGBT community and the roles of race and class in sexual orientation discussions.
He also highlighted the need for “safe places and brave places.” A safe place was defined as a forum where “folks can be safe being who they are” without fear of reprisal or hatefulness. A brave place was defined as a “progressive space, a brave space for critical dialogue” important for discussions of discovery and critical thinking about sensitive topics.
Several students gave their reasons for coming to the lecture.
“I am straight but I have a brother who is gay. I don’t want to be those parents that say, ‘Oh you’re going to burn in hell.’ I’m here because knowledge is power,” SLCC student Barbara Corona said, “Being LDS, there are some things that I don’t agree with the church. I just want to be a parent that’s accepting of my children.”
Another student, Amelia Brown, said in a smaller group discussion, “I’m here because, well, I am gay and I’m actually kind of new to being out, so I’d like to learn more as well, and also meet like minded people.”
A student who only identified himself as James, related to the event in a different way. “I’m here because I want to learn more about people. What I want to share is my story of growing up differently, and feeling ostracized for completely unrelated reasons.”
Overall, the event was successful in bringing together students from many different cultures and of different sexual orientations. Curtis summed up his lecture’s focus in a sort of thesis statement, “We must all work together. Please make a human connection with your peers.”
Billy Curtis has spent 11 years as the Assistant Dean of Students at the University of California at Berkeley where he has developed a wide array of services for the L.G.B.T.I.Q. community there. He is widely published and has delivered lectures nationwide on the intersections of race and sexuality. Curtis is on the boards of San Francisco’s LGBT Center, And Castro For All, and the LGBT Counsel of Business Executives and Entrepreneurs.
And in case those last two initials are still a mystery: I is for Intersex and Q is for questioning. The Q can also stand for Queer, a term used to describe people who don’t readily fit into one of the above mentioned categories, or who fit into several of them simultaneously.